Ebiking on South Downs way with Cadence
Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle was a keen cyclist. He penned the saying, “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Wise words from the celebrated writer and physician who died in 1930 and unlike us, didn’t have to endure the monotony of not one, not two, but three lockdowns due to a worldwide pandemic to make him appreciate the simple joy of getting on your bike and out in the great outdoors.
And let’s face it, 18 months on from the start of the coronavirus the vast majority of folk are doing more walking, running, swimming and cycling to improve their physical and mental health.
Long walks, a bit of sea swimming and the very occasional run are part of my routine and my trusty two wheeler has taken me on some fantastic adventures.
But nothing compared to this week’s experience when I joined the collective of cycling enthusiasts at Cadence cycle hub, at Church Farm in Litlington – across the river from Alfriston in the heart of the South Downs National Park – for a ride out on one of their ebikes.
Despite the very first electric bicycles being documented as far back as 1880, the first commercially successful ebike models starting appearing in 1997 and within a year the market was rammed as their popularity grew.
Cadence – which in translation is the rate at which a cyclist is pedalling or turning the pedals – is the brainchild of business partners Matthew Jackson and Roger Myall.
They are passionate about the beautiful countryside we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep and – in their own words – on a mission to build bigger, stronger and more diverse cycling communities, promote health, fitness and responsible enjoyment of the great outdoors and to deliver the best cycling routes and refreshments, all with a smile.
“We are a collective of enthusiastic cyclists on a mission to make cycling more accessible and fun for everyone,” says Matthew.
“And we are here to help people discover the countryside and South Downs. There’s no better way to explore it than by ebike, which are just as easy to ride as pedal cycles and give gentle assistance for hillier terrains.”
Part of the Cadence business is renting ebikes by the hour – the bikes are suitable for all standards of riders and the staff can help with route ideas.
But it is the recently launched bike tour that myself and three friends are booked in for – half a day – three hours – across the South Downs with a stop at Rathfinny Wine Estate.
Never having been on an electric bike before, I was slightly apprehensive as we set off from the hub, which is opposite the hugely successful Long Man Brewery, and onto the road for a brief while before cutting into the bridlepath towards Alfriston.
Our local guide for the ride is Keara Camacho, who knows her stuff when it comes to not only handling the bikes but also history and folklore. We had a brief stop at the Tye in Alfriston, opposite the medieval thatched Clergy House – the first building saved for the nation by the National Trust – and again outside the Smugglers public house which is steeped in history.
Who knew it had lent itself so admirably to smuggling gang’s purposes, since it had at one time 21 rooms, six staircases and 48 doors? The maze of passageways and doors made escape easier for the smugglers in the event of an unwelcome caller or the long arm of the law and tunnels reputedly led away from the house to nearby buildings and off to Wilmington.
Back on our bikes and Keara took us along some lesser known trails and when the electric battery kicked in to life, the hills and peaks of the downs were nowhere near as daunting as the might have been on a normal pedal cycle.
You still have to pedal but the extra turbo boost certainly helps although as you come down from the higher points, it’s the brakes you need to focus on as you head down the valley and slopes and past the vineyards of Rathfinny, the family-owned wine estate established in 2010 and dedicated to producing some of the world’s finest sparkling wines.
Cycling is thirsty work and the estate’s Kristina Whitney put us through our paces with an informative chat about the art of winemaking and we were able to taste some of their award winning wines including the Rathfinny Rose Brut and my particular favourite, the Cradle Valley Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2018.
After refuelling, it was only a short ride back down to Cadence for a much needed cuppa and slice of cake.
Each Cadence hub has a food and drink offering and their bakewell tart is out of this world. I am reliably informed the chocolate brownie is also good although it’s the date and orange flapjack that is the best seller.
Cadence’s neighbours within Church Farm are Liquid Spirit, a coffee roastery, and Long Man Brewery so it makes sense that another tour offers lunch at Cadence and a tour of the brewery after a circular ride across the South Downs.
Guided ebike tours are available for two to 10 people but there is more to this relatively young company than the electric bike and its outstanding cakes.
It’s a community and its hubs – at Trueleigh Hill on the South Downs Way near Shoreham; at Deers Leep Bike Park in East Grinstead, West Sussex and at Cycleshack Eastbourne in the Connect 27 Business Park in Polegate – offer a range of services from bike rental to servicing, great food and coffee and a chance to chat to like minded people. The South Downs National Park Authority has supplied a piece of equipment with every single spanner or tool you might need for your bike should you need a quick repair.
And don’t forget about the walkers as there’s plenty of them heading along the South Downs Way or indeed the horseriders who are also frequent users of the bridleways.
I am a big fan of Cadence. It’s got just the right appeal for people from all walks of life and it’s certainly well on its way to achieving that all important mission of making cycling more accessible and fun for all. But as I always say, don’t take my word for it: visit www.cadencecycle.club, call 07884 431413 or follow them on Instagram @cadencecycleclub to find out more and get out on your bike. You won’t regret it.